We are all Born Atheists: I Just Stayed that Way- PART ONE Childhood and Religion

We are all Born Atheists: I Just Stayed that Way Part ONE

By David G. McAfee 

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My Childhood and Religion

            Everybody is born as an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position… more often than not, however, this is not the case. My parents were not religious people… They may have abused substances religiously- but church was probably the last thing on their minds. When I was two years old, my parents divorced and began their separate lives pursuing drugs to feed their addictions. Clearly, they felt that they were unfit to properly care for their child (though they were always a large part of my life and, for the most part, acted in accordance with standard human morals and decency)- my grandmother thankfully volunteered to care for me until my mother or father could afford (financially and emotionally) to raise me. She never mistreated me or abused me, but she was the first person in my life to introduce me to religion and the authority of the church.

            When I was a bit older- maybe six years old- I went to a Christian church at the discretion of my grandparents; this was my first real experience with a religious institution. The church, located in a small town in Northern California, considered itself “non-denominational” and usually consisted of a pastor reciting well-chosen biblical passages for about an hour. Needless to say, I was not moved by the experience- and didn’t take the idea of church seriously. My grandmother was a traditional, god-fearing, Christian woman- it wasn’t until much later that I would realize the closed-mindedness that this mindset bred in her and others. She saw that I was not excited about attending church on a regular basis and, at around age eight, she mandated that I attend a weekly children’s class at the same church in an attempt to force my involvement within the “House of God.” I recall my first day at this Sunday School very well; I remember that my younger step-sister was there with me in a classroom-like setting learning about Christ and his message. I also remember the tactics utilized by the ‘teachers’ in order to keep the attention of the children, including gifts of candy and other prizes for active participation each Sunday. I’m sure that the intentions of these people were positive but, in hindsight, I cannot help but see the gifts as bribery in exchange for willing indoctrination of a child. After we earned a certain amount of “Bible Bucks” (awarded for correctly answering trivia questions and participating in songs) – we could cash in our vouchers for prizes like toys or a ten-minute break to play on the trampoline behind the church.

             The bus ride to and from Sunday School was the most exciting part of the event for me and my step-sister; we would play games, sing songs, and we were always given a large amount of sugary sweets. My point in telling you this is not to glorify the practice of forcing a religion on a child, but instead to illuminate the ways in which this act is carried out within the Christian community and other religious traditions. My step-sister was always delighted to attend church in order to receive candy and prizes… it didn’t take long for this connection to become a subconscious one, which created an extremely positive outlook of church and religion in her eyes… Out of this grew a young girl who began to take their church “schooling” home and take it very seriously. For one reason or another, I did not have this issue- I simply didn’t take church or religion seriously, I remember thinking of it more as a pastime or a game to occupy my time on Sunday mornings, acknowledging that the miracles portrayed in the Biblical Texts could not have possibly occurred. I attended this class for around three years, which was the remainder of my time living with my grandparents. At age eleven, my father took me to live with him and his family in an apartment he rented in a more… urban… part of the city. My siblings remained believers, and went to church on holidays with my grandparents- but my father didn’t- and I never felt the urge to, either.


Born Atheist

Born Atheist

10 responses to “We are all Born Atheists: I Just Stayed that Way- PART ONE Childhood and Religion

  1. Angel Adonay Alvarado

    Reading your compelling articles and stories make me feel most proud of being a staunch atheist. It inevitably reminds me of the terrible experiences I went through during my childhood because of religion. Cheers David, people like you, Richard Dawkins and many other truth-seekers make this world BETTER! cheers mate.

  2. Robert Frazier


    Well done. I enjoy the way you cover what should be obvious to us all. I have been an atheist since I was twelve, and have been tolerant and respectful to others’ religious beleifs until just over a year ago. I read Sam Harris’, “Why Science Must Destroy Religion.” I thought it was a bit harsh at first, however, within three or four months of letting it roll around my thoughts, I realized how truly dangerous organized religion is, as well as, the effectiveness and genius of the, “indoctrination of the child” process used over the centuries. “Religion is Slavery.” Cheers!

  3. As an African American female of a “special” age, whenever I explain that I am a ‘naturally-occurring’ atheist, my peers look at me in puzzlement. Apparently, we don’t have a default mode atheism, but instead jump out the womb, able to sing spirituals and reading the bible.

    There must have been a glitch in my programming as I came out asking questions like ‘Where did Jesus go to the bathroom?’ (having had a few negative experiences along the autobahn as a kid, I was concerned for others who were traveling). Anyway, after a while, they decided I didn’t need to attend Sunday school. They didn’t bribe us with candy. I might have not taken the cannibalism quite so seriously if they had suckered me in with candy.

  4. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ectoplastic Yeshua could enter at wil any building. Gee, itsn’t that swell?
    Ignostic Morgan

  6. Man, I wish I knew what the secret ingredient was. Some of us, despite growing up in goddy households and tribes, come out of it sane.

  7. Linda Dilworth

    I’m not sure one way or the other. I feel compelled to believe out of fear of hell and praying when tragedies occur. Today I joined an atheist page on facebook to become more informed of the opinions of others, and immediately received a post from a fb friend whom I knew in high scool who questioned if I was an atheist. When I advised her, no, I was not but was curious, she said “good, I don’t want to lose a friend.” That, I Don’t like.

  8. Pingback: My Childhood and Religion- PART TWO « The Secular Writings of David G. McAfee

  9. Interesting reading. I experienced the exact opposite while having some similar life experiences. My parents also divorced when I was 3. I was raised far from God and was taught atheism as far back as I have memory by my paternal grandfather. But I have no memory of a time when I didn’t know there was a God. Unlike you I was not exposed to organized Religion/Christianity to any substantial degree until my early teens.
    The notion that “we are all born atheists” is a little disingenuous, since we all know we are born cognitively ignorant of almost everything. I don’t mean this sarcastically, but you could have just as easily entitled your article, “We are all born ignorant.” None of us stay that way.
    As I developed and matured from birth it was my exposure to atheism contrasted to what I saw and experienced around me that pushed me toward God. I talk about this here: http://www.follow-the-light.org/2009/11/atheist-at-thanksgiving.html
    As we develop in life we make decisions. When exposed to God we both clearly made decisions based not in the ignorance of our births, but in the knowledge we had attained since. For me, my preliminary experiences with God felt overwhelmingly right. I did, and still do, have some complications with religion, but I was inexplicably drawn to God.
    The late Antony Flew seems to have had a similar experience to yours, and he grew up a preacher’s son. Antony Flew continued to be open to where ever the evidence led him. I believe I have done the same, and, I expect, so do you… but our condition at birth has little to do with truth and our quest. Antony Flew also postulated the notion that atheism is a basic natural condition, but the evidence seems to have led him to deism, which means, for him, that the evidence overwhelmed his natural or birth condition. I briefly discuss his evidence in a series of 4 posts beginning here: http://www.follow-the-light.org/2009/11/atheist-no-more.html
    I believe the evidence for God is overwhelming and compelling… and it seems I have always believed this…
    I have posted this response on my blog here:

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